|Colorful state Route 79
River lore, history, scenic beauty and more await you in the Missouri towns of Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville
By Deborah Reinhardt
Like the river it follows, state Route 79 in Missouri overflows with color, character and history. Beginning in Hannibal and continuing south for 86 miles to Interstate 70 at St. Peters, Mo., state Route 79 (the Great River Road) links together towns steeped in Mississippi River lore, conservation areas and scenic beauty.
Spring and fall are good seasons to cruise this two-lane route. On a spring drive last year, colors seemed to leap off an artist's palette. Purple red buds popped along the river bluffs. Rustic red barns, silver silos and green farmers fields seemed to vibrate with color. Barges churned brown water while pushing their tows upriver.
The two-hour drive from Hannibal passes DuPont and Ted Shanks conservation areas and the sleepy town of Clarksville. It's an easy day tour, or choose to stay overnight in Hannibal or Clarksville.
Mark Twains hometown
The riverboat pilot waved to two women on shore, blew the whistle and pulled away from the Center Street Landing in Hannibal. Because the Mississippi River played such an important part in the life of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), visitors to Hannibal shouldn't miss a tour of the river aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat. One-hour narrated sightseeing tours, as well as two-hour dinner cruises, are offered May through October.
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, a complex of six buildings in the historic district, is another attraction that must be seen by any visitor. Allow at least 90 minutes to go through the home and other buildings, including the Mark Twain Museum on Main Street.
Inside the building, you'll find an exhibit off the page of Huckleberry Finn, the first of five displays from Twains works planned for the museum. There's also a small exhibit from the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, a re-created riverboat pilothouse, exhibits on Hannibal history and architecture, and 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn editions of The Saturday Evening Post.
Other attractions with river or Mark Twain influences are off state Route 79. Exploring a cave just south of town was a favorite boyhood activity for Sam Clemens. His cave expeditions are immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Today, Mark Twain Cave is a popular stop in Hannibal.
The one-hour guided tour takes visitors through a quarter of the cave's 260 passages. It's an easy walking tour; bring a jacket as the year-round temperature is 52 degrees. Cameron's Cave, a more primitive spot, also is on site, as well as Treasure Hollow, where children can pan for gemstones in the sluice at the Rock Shop. Other souvenirs and an ice cream parlor also are offered to guests.
Across from the cave off state Route 79 is Sawyer's Creek, an entertainment area that has amusements for children and souvenir shops. Have lunch or dinner at the Riverview Café to enjoy steak soup, barbecue and great Mississippi River views. Watch riverboats and barges from the large deck.
For another great view, drive up to Lover's Leap just south of Hannibal on state Route 79. From the top (250 feet above the river), you can see all of Hannibal and into Illinois. There are picnic tables should you wish to linger on the hilltop.
If you can spend a full day in town, Hannibal offers a collection of terrific shops in original row houses throughout the historic district. Check out Ayers Pottery on North Third and see stoneware and jewelry being created. Fresh Ayers on North Main features this handmade pottery, plus other gifts, gourmet foods, special coffees and desserts. Try the hot Milky Way coffee drink and a slice of carrot cake.
Watch spinners or weavers at The Niddy Noddy on Center Street. There's a woolen mill on site (one of only two in Missouri) where you can see wool being cleaned and dyed in preparation for spinning. Watch glassblowers working at Hamon Handcrafted Glass on Hill Street.
Have a casual dinner at Lula Belle's Restaurantonce the town brothelbefore turning in at one of several motels or bed-and-breakfast inns.
Back to nature
Eighteen miles south of Hannibal are two natural areasDuPont Reservation Conservation Area and Ted Shanks Conservation Areawhere you can experience the natural beauty of this region. Fishing, hunting, hiking and birdwatching are some of the activities. Picnic tables are available at DuPont during summer months.
Continue on to the river town of Clarksville, which offers scenic river views, history, antiques and interesting shops. A good place to begin your visit is with a 45-minute tour of the town. The Tour Clarksville office is on Front Street, and tours depart from the Clarksville Eagle Center, Thursday through Sunday.
The Clarksville Eagle Center, operated by the World Bird Sanctuary headquartered in St. Louis County, will show you a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles, depending on the season, said education coordinator Teri Schroer. During the migratory season (late November through mid-February), view Bald Eagles indoors from a comfortable couch looking onto the river. Visitor information is also available here. Call (573) 242-3132 for hours.
After browsing downtown shops, relax at Riverfront Park and watch barges slip through Lock and Dam #24. Riverfront Park also is the site for special events, such as Big River Days, held the third weekend in September. This festival celebrates river history with music, food, exhibits and demonstrations.
Ralph Huesing, program manager with Main Street Clarksville, said the town is looking to the future, with long-range plans for a Mississippi River interpretive center, and the reopening of Lookout Point, a scenic overlook that is the highest spot on the river between New Orleans and St. Paul.
Sample the Mississippi's history and character by traveling this portion of the Great River Road. If you take time to listen, you'll come away with stories as timeless as the river itself.
^ to top | previous page